Are you thinking about purchasing your first toaster oven? Or replacing a beloved old one?
With all of the choices available today, buying a toaster oven can feel pretty overwhelming.
You want to pick the best one.
A toaster oven you’re so excited to cook with you tell every person you know about it. Heck, strangers too!
Well, the secret to finding the right little oven for you is two things:
- First, figure out exactly what YOU want to accomplish with your toaster oven.
- Then doing some research.
Below you’ll find 9 tips for choosing a toaster oven to help you find your perfect match.
TL;DR: Sometimes your big oven randomly dies (we’ve been there!) and you don’t have time to carefully review all of the different options available. Desperate for a fluffy baked potato, you need a little oven and you need it NOW!
If that’s the case, skip ahead to the “What Do You Want To Cook?” section, it should help you quickly decide what size toaster oven to get.
We believe it’s easy to learn to love almost any toaster oven so long as you can fit the food you want to cook in it. Had the Oster we impulsively purchased years ago at Costco accommodated a quarter sheet pan we’d probably still be using it today.
Wait! Before you run off, at least skim this Everything You Need to Know About Convection Toaster Ovens post too. Consider if that’s a feature you’d be sad about not having.
Okay, if you’re here for the heavy duty toaster oven talk let’s do this!
1. SIZE AND SPACE
When deciding what size toaster oven to get, there are two BIG things to consider:
- Where you’ll be cooking.
- What you want to cook.
Before you start shopping, grab a tape measure and jot down the full dimensions of the area you plan to use your toaster oven in.
For safety reasons, all toaster ovens have a minimum amount of clearance or space that is required to be between the appliance and overhead cabinets, rear walls and on both sides during use.
Once you’ve found a toaster oven you like, check the manual (See Tip #7 – Websites) for the clearance amounts. They’re usually listed right at the beginning under the Important Safeguards section.
If you can’t find them call the manufacturer.
They’ll have the info you need and it’ll give you an opportunity to check out their customer service too (See Tip #8 – Customer Service Test Drive).
The power cords on most toaster ovens are designed short intentionally with your safety in mind.
It’s easy to see where they’re coming from. It would be terrible if someone snagged a long cord and knocked a 25-pound hot oven onto their foot, or worse.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge for you, especially if your kitchen is in short supply of available power sockets.
Take a few minutes and look around your space.
How far is the nearest power plug from the area you intend to use your toaster oven?
Some large toaster ovens that are a higher wattage require the appliance be operated on a dedicated circuit that is separate from other appliances.
What does that mean?
Honestly, I’m not really sure.
I thought it was about not having two appliances plugged into the same outlet. Then Tim kindly let me know I was wrong and that multiple outlets can be on the same circuit.
While looking online, I came across this article by the Family Handyman about electrical overloads that you might find helpful. But if you’re unsure at all about your house’s wiring and circuit load you should consult a licensed electrician for guidance.
So What Do You Want To Cook?
Think about what kind of food and how much of it you’re planning to cook in your toaster oven. Do you want to cook:
- A single baked potato, 2 lbs of Brussels sprouts or a 13-inch pizza?
- 2 small salmon fillets, a whole chicken or a 14lb turkey?
- Half a dozen cookies, boxed brownie mix or a double layer cake?
Look in your cabinets and review the pans you already use to make your favorite dishes. What size are they, do you use an 8×8 pan to make brownies or a quarter sheet pan to bake cookies?
Make a list of the different pan sizes you want to be able to use.
Keep that list handy so you can compare it to the interior dimensions for any toaster ovens that makes your short list.
2. BUDGET AND REPUTATION
Whether you’ve set a specific budget or not focus on quality, durability, and reputation over snazzy features. A solid little oven with limited features will be a million times better than one with 25 different settings but unreliable heating elements.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “That’s great and all but where can I find good recommendations for a quality toaster oven?”
Chat up your family members, coworkers, and friends. If you’re on social media, send out a tweet or do a poll on Facebook.
People who love to cook with their toaster ovens like to share about them.
After you’ve narrowed down your list to two or three potential toaster ovens that are within your budget you can dive deep.
- Read reviews on Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond.
- Look at a few “Best Toaster Oven” articles where your favorite choices have been thoroughly tested.
- Check out YouTube for user videos to see them in action and don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comments section.
Once you’ve decided on the toaster oven that will fit your counter space and meet your cooking needs, a good sale is always waiting around the corner.
When Are Toaster Ovens Usually On Sale?
- Late April – June: Stores run discounts for wedding and graduation gifts
- Late October – December: Small appliances are deeply discounted for holiday sales
- Every major US holiday
You really need only a few basic functions to cook with a toaster oven: Bake, Toast, and Broil.
By making adjustments to the rack placement and temperature, you can cook almost anything with just these 3 functions.
Bake: The bake function works similar to a standard “big oven” with the heat coming primarily from the bottom. The toaster oven maintains an even temperature by cycling the top and bottom elements off and on or by pulsing the elements to varying their intensity.
Toast: With the toast function power is evenly distributed to both the upper and lower elements. It’s great for toasting both sides of bread, waffles, and reheating leftover pizza.
Broil: The broil function uses direct radiant heat to cook foods with only the top elements. Broiling is useful for melting cheese, “grilling” vegetables and small cuts of meats, and browning the tops of casseroles. If you enjoy broiling foods look at toaster ovens with a third upper element specifically for broiling and ones with the ability to adjust the broiler’s temperature.
These days, toaster ovens come LOADED with extra functions.
Below we’ve listed some of the more popular ones. Exactly how the functions work will vary across brands but we’ve tried to give you a basic idea of what each one does.
While reading the descriptions below, consider which ones you’d actually use and should be on your must-have list. I guarantee it won’t be all of them, after all, there’s only so many hours in the day!
- Bagel: Crisps the top and insides of your bagel while only slightly warming its crusty exterior.
- Pizza: Distributes heat from above and below, crisping the crust and melting your toppings. Will have a preset time and temperature and may auto-select convection if it’s available. Some pizza functions will also adjust the cooking time based on the pizza’s size and if it’s fresh or frozen.
- Cookies: Has a preset cooking time and temperature for baking cookies. Usually, will auto-select convection if it’s available.
- Warm: Will keeps cooked foods warm with a very delicate temperature around 160F which is above the “danger zone” of 40-140 for bacterial growth in food.
- Proof: Creates a warm but low temperature (around 80F) environment for proofing yeasted bread and pizza doughs.
- Reheat or leftovers: This function uses a medium-low temperature (275F – 325F) to reheat leftover food without browning or drying it out.
- Slow cooking: Designed to mimic a countertop slow cooker or crockpot. The toaster oven will function at a low temperature for a long period of set time.
- Roast: The elements are programmed to have a more aggressive approach (different from the more gentle “Bake” heating) in reaching and maintaining the set temperature.
- Phase or Dual Cooking: Will allow you to combine two cooking functions and temperatures to operate back to back in one consecutive session. For example, if you were making a casserole, you could set the Bake function at 350F for 45 minutes and then Warm for 30 minutes.
- Dehydrate: A fan and low heat are used to dry herbs, fruits, and other foods over an extended period of time. Usually, includes a special rack.
- Air-Fry: A fan and high heat are used to quickly crisp and brown foods. Great for baking crispy frozen items. Usually, includes a special rack.
- Steam: Includes a special water reservoir that allows you to steam or poach food and create bakery-style artisan homemade loaves of bread.
Many specialty functions like “Roast” have pre-programmed settings for controlling the heating elements. Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t tend to include a lot of specific information about them.
This can make it difficult to decide when to use a specialty function and troubleshooting problems.
On a more positive note, some digital toaster ovens are designed to remember the settings (like temperature and time) that you use for each function. If there’s a specific cookie recipe or frozen pizza you bake regularly that could come in quite handy.
From convection fans to interior lights and rotisserie spits there is no end to the number of special features they’re putting in toaster ovens. Below are some of the common and uncommon ones we’ve seen.
- Convection: A fan that forces warm air throughout your toaster oven cooking foods quicker and more evenly.
- LCD Screen: Will display your function selection and temperature settings. In some cases the screen will change color during preheating and when your dish is finished.
- Interior Light: Opening the door to check your food can reduce your toaster ovens interior temperature dramatically. A light allows you to monitor the status of your food without opening the door. Look for toaster ovens that make the light bulb accessible and easy to replace.
- Timer: The timer will announce the end of the cook time and in some cases the end of the preheating cycle too. Some timers will also include an automatic shut-off feature to turn the toaster oven off after cooking and a few allow you to control the sound level of the beep.
- Auto-Eject Rack: Using magnets or a hook, the oven rack with automatically advance forward when you open the toaster oven’s door.
- Multiple Rack Positions: Different rack positions allow you to move your dishes closer or farther away from the different heating elements during cooking. If you want to cook with more than one pan at a time look for toaster ovens that have multiple rack positions and come with multiple oven racks.
- Fahrenheit/Celsius Button: Gives you the option to display degrees as Fahrenheit or Celsius.
- Frozen Button: Lets the toaster oven know you are cooking something frozen so it can add additional time (based upon the item) to defrost and cook your frozen pizza, cookie, bagel or toast.
- Temperature Probe: Allows you to cook your food to a desired set internal temperature using a temperature probe that attaches to the toaster oven. The probe is inserted into your food item and relays the internal temperature back to the toaster oven.
- Rotisserie: Provides the ability to roast meat or poultry in a rotisserie fashion. The walls of the toaster oven will have special sockets for you to insert your food on an included rotisserie spit. The toaster oven will slowly spin the rotisserie spit to evenly cook your meat or poultry.
- Non-Stick Interior: Almost all toaster ovens have an interior non-stick coating for easy cleaning. If this is something you’re concerned about, you should contact the manufacturer directly before making a purchase.
5. ACCESSORIES AND PANS
At a minimum, you want your toaster oven to come with a crumb tray and a baking pan. The nice thing about extra accessories like a pizza stone or broiling rack is that you know it’s been designed to fit in your toaster oven.
- Baking Pan: A metal pan sized for your toaster oven that can be used for broiling, and baking.
- Broiling Rack: A metal rack that fits inside the baking pan. It elevates your food during broiling and allows the baking pan to work as a drip pan for cooking meats and poultry.
- Removable Crumb Tray: The crumb tray catches loose crumbs and spills that may fall to the bottom of your toaster oven. The tray should be removable and slide out so you can easily wipe it off or scrub if needed. For the best low-crumbs-everywhere experience look for a tray that is removable from the exterior (without opening the door).
- Pizza Pan or Pizza Stone: A round metal pan or baking stone sized for cooking pizza in your toaster oven.
- Cutting Board: The top of a toaster oven gets very warm during use. Some manufacturers sell specially designed cutting boards that will fit on top of your toaster oven with silicone feet for elevation/airflow. These boards provide a cooling area for cooked food, can be used as a trivet when placing food on a table for serving and of course you can chop ingredients on them.
6. CONSIDER ACCESSIBILITY
Many readers with physical disabilities have been generous in sharing and educating us on how their toaster ovens have made cooking more accessible.
While every person’s experiences and needs are unique to them some of the issues our readers have mentioned that affect their ability to cook include vision impairment, reduced hearing, fatigue when standing and limitations in using a side of their body.
For some people just being able to cook at counter height and no longer having to bend down to take heavy dishes out of a full-sized oven has been an improvement.
Cindy let us know that her Oster convection toaster oven “is my main oven since I am unable to stand for long periods and the large oven is just difficult for me to use without burning myself sitting down.”
Others have found toaster ovens that provide audible and visual cues helpful. Like flashing lights or beeps when the oven has been turned on or is finished cooking.
A large number of readers mentioned that big easy to read print for the different functions and temperature markings was important.
Marion, who is blind, made a Hamilton Beach toaster convection/broiler oven more accessible with “little adjustments like adding bump dots at several places on the temperature and time knobs.”
If you are trying to create a more accessible kitchen for yourself, loved one or a friend check out this informative and resources-filled post on Cooking With A Physical Disability from The Kitchn.
And if you have an experience or adaptive toaster oven solution to share please do so in the comments section below!
7. WEBSITES AND WARRANTIES
You should always visit the manufacturer’s website for any toaster oven you are considering.
Once you locate the one you’re interested in download the manual and read through it to see if you have any questions.
Also, look to see if you can purchase replacement trays and pans or additional accessories from them.
Check if there are any instructional videos. Having a website available that explains how to cook with your specific little oven and provides recipes sure would be a bonus in my book.
While you’re on the manufacturer’s website find the warranty information and read it over too.
Take note of how long the warranty is for, what it covers, and how they handle defective appliances and parts.
Store Return Policies
Before you plunk down your cash or click that “BUY” button investigate your store’s return policy. In some cases, if you have a problem you may need to deal directly with the store to get it resolved.
There are stores with generous return policies, and others with very limited ones.
Making your peace with a store’s policy before purchasing is a good idea.
8. TEST DRIVE CUSTOMER SERVICE
We hope your toaster oven is always behaving nicely.
But sometimes you can run into a problem and need customer service. In those frustrating moments, it’s good to know what you can expect when you pick up the phone or send off an email.
Take note while you’re reading reviews (Tip #2 – Reputation) about how people describe their customer service experiences.
Scroll through a manufacturer’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. Are they polite, responsive and quick to offer solutions when an issue is raised?
Take them for a real life test drive by giving the customer service a call or sending an email. Ask any questions you had after reading the manual.
You’re planning to buy an awesome toaster oven that lasts for years. This could be a very long term customer service relationship you’re entering into.
One suggestion though, if you have a bad experience try at least one more time.
You’ve probably worked in a customer service position before. (I’ve been a waitress, sandwich maker, and video store clerk – RIP Blockbuster Video).
So you know that customer service workers are human like the rest of us. The first person you talked with might be new or maybe having a bad day.
9. GO TO A PHYSICAL STORE
I recognize you may not have this option but if you can, do it!
Get handsy with the toaster ovens:
- Turn the knobs. Are they easy to align with the different functions or are they super loose?
- Pretend like you’ve just baked the best macaroni and cheese ever. Pull the rack out like you normally would to remove your food. Does it fall forward, sliding out of the toaster oven?
- How easy is it to remove the crumb tray, will you be knocking crumbs all over trying to get it out?
If the accessories are with it, do they seem durable or thin and flimsy?
A cheap baking pan shouldn’t be a deal breaker but you’ll want to factor in the cost of buying a different one when considering the overall price.
If you’re at a department store (like Target and Macy’s) or a kitchen supply store (like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma) grab some of the different pans from that list you made earlier and give each one a try. Make sure those must-use pans will fit!
With so many toaster ovens to choose from, picking the “best one” can be tough.
The trick is finding one that works for your specific needs and preferences. We hope these tips have helped you do that.
Do you already own a toaster oven you love?
Share your favorite tips for choosing a toaster oven!